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Showing posts from November, 2013

Spyder's Web: Red Admiral

This is one of two episodes of Spyder's Web that survive in colour, & in my opinion that fact does this episode no good at all. It also illustrates why I was so glad that Emergency Exit only survives in black & white. This is illustrated by a point (at 01:50 where a section of the film has been black & white & the colour springs back in. In black & white the picture is crisp, light & dark are clearly differentiated, but all this just becomes fuzzy when the colour comes back. This may have been partly because of the '70s palette of greys & browns that dominate many of the scenes, but I suspect it it because of a lack of restoration work on the part of Network. The colours in this episode look like a 1980s pirated video of the Avengers, & don't compare well to Studio Canal's remastering for the recent box sets. These two colour episodes really show their age. This is not helped by the opening computer scene which dates it tremendously, a

Spyder's Web: Emergency Exit

Ever since I first watched through the only series of Spyder's Web, this has remained one of my favourite episodes, even though it has also remained strangely hazy in my memory. I have watched it at least three times, but bizarrely what remains in my memory the most is the street scene which forms the opening scene. That said, I would have had difficulty telling you exactly what was going on; I think this may be partly a penalty of such effective visuals - Lottie is totally convincing as a traffic warden, but Hawksworth looks like a man pretending to be a plumber - that they tend to be remembered over the plot. I find it interesting the way the Network DVD liner notes phrase the premise of this episode: 'Spyder knows that the Viscount Employment Agency is a cover for the deployment of agents from the Other Side...'. Both the phrase & the capitalisation create exactly the right atmosphere of Cold War intrigue. In fact it way simplifies the case compared to the effec

Spyder's Web: Life at a Price

This episode of Spyder's Web is in great contrast to the last one I blogged about, the Hafiz Affair, at least on the surface. To me it manages to feel much more claustrophobic, & uses that well-worn cliche of television drama, the private clinic run by a dodgy doctor. Perhaps that is why, to me at least, it feels much more like a relatively stodgy television play than the eccentric TV & sparkling dialogue that Spyder otherwise provides. The plot is similarly imperialist to Hafiz, though, Lottie describes the point as defending the last remaining ten acres of the British Empire. This is one of the things that makes it clear to me that Lottie & Hawksworth are definitely servants of their masters - despite apparently independent personalities & doubts, they are definitely in the status of employees, & I can't think of an occasion in the series where they can turn down a job or criticise it. This is also similar to the ambivalence underlying The Avengers: u

Spyder's Web: The Hafiz Affair

Since I'm taking it upon myself to give these programmes Avengers-style subtitles, this one can be: in which the Spyder does Danger Man with a few nods to Bulldog Drummond. Actually only the Danger Man comment is mine (& really only the premise of this episode screams Danger Man, otherwise the treatment is quite different), the Bulldog Drummond one is Lottie's comment to Hawksworth. You see, what this episode chiefly stands out for in my eyes is the character development & the development of Spyder's Web as a body. Hawksworth was introduced to the series as very much the individualist, yet in this episode it is plain that he needs a fairly rigid organisation to form a background. He finds Spyder's Web very difficult & is continually trying to find his bearings. If only one thing is clear it is this: he is not the whizzkid he seemed in the first episode, & Lottie is a better spy than he will ever be. Her intelligence is astounding: I love the instr

Spyder's Web: Romance on Wheels

My top exchange in this episode: Lottie: 'You're Henry Wormley.' Hawksworth: 'God.' Lottie: 'No, he's a small farmer of moderate means. *I'm* God.' I love that Hawksworth decides it's to be pronounced Wumley, 'to rhyme with bum'. Visually this episode starts off by feeling like the first episode by featuring men, presumably from a ministry, arriving at an abandoned quarry in the middle of nowhere. The repeated theme of betrayal however, feels genuinely surprising again, by the shock of throwing the man who has found two bodies, to his death in the quarry. Nowadays the idea of mail-order brides is perhaps not as alien as it would have been in 1972, although I love Romance on Wheels's explicit advertising that they average two marriages per tour, such a good idea to make it clear what's going to happen. The country to which the tour goes with its 'ambiance of romantic opportunity' is not made clear, but it

Spyder's Web: The Executioners

Spyder's Web doesn't go in for titles in the same format as the later series of The Avengers, but if it did this one would be called 'in which Mary Whitehouse goes seriously off the rails'! In this episode a serious contemporary issue comes under the microscope: the question of indecency & censorship was very hot stuff through the 1960s & into the 1970s. Once again this realism distinguishes Spyder's Web from the world of The Avengers, which was self-consciously unreal, although this episode otherwise feels very Avengers. It is about an organisation called The Executioners, who supposedly kill those it considers immoral. The organisation consists solely of very Establishment figures indeed, who appear to take the law into their own hand. Here the Establishment is investigating the Establishment. Once again sticking to its own time serves this programme well in making it respectably of its age & without pretence. it is unlikely nowadays that anybody

Spyder's Web: Spyder Secures a Main Strand

Adam Adamant Lives! (Which I've also been watching & will be posting on) is often thought as a major imitator & competitor to The Avengers, wrongly in my opinion. I feel a more convincing historical descendant of The Avengers is Spyder's Web, which is not to say I think it (or even Adam Adamant) was consciously imitative. I think it more likely they & other series picked up things from the zeitgeist of the time. That said, for me Spyder's Web in many ways feels like a Cathy Gale-era Avengers. The opening scenes of this episode - the chase across the field & the double-cross - are pure Avengers, because of the way they introduce the enemy & the element of insecurity, & place them within a pastoral idyll. This sense of English security containing rottenness is continued in the next scene, of a car drawing up to a solid middle-class home & the domestic conversation which follows. However the man is supposed to be head of Exportease, which is

The New Avengers Series 1: The Last of the Cybernauts...?

No doubt an occupational hazard of being a secret agent is the danger of retribution by your enemies, and the cybernauts story arc demonstrates this to perfection. I started off these three posts on the cybernauts by watching the three episodes back to back, which I thought would be a simple repeat viewing but I was surprised to find that this episode of The New AVengers was totally unfamiliar to me, although I must have seen it before because I know for a fact I have watched all the way through the New Avengers boxed set. I don't dislike the New Avengers, myself: I feel there are a few major differences, often in production values, but if you dig you can find the old Avengers atmosphere running under the surface. These differences are admirably illustrated by the opening scenes of this episode. The flashback to a previous birthday of Steed's, followed by a car chase and then another birthday party, doesn't feel very Avengers at all. Nor does the car chase. Incidentally I

The Avengers Series 5 Episode 17: The Return of the Cybernauts

Compared to the original Cybernauts episode, this is very much a continuation of the same themes that I commented on in my previous post on that episode: the threat of technology if it should get out of hand, the danger of establishment figures going to the bad, conflict between the world of tradition and the brave new world of the future, and especially an ambivalence towards the world of technology opening up. This episode uses exactly the same visual devices as the last one did to make essentially the same points, starting immediately from the cybernaut bursting into a stately home, exactly the same way The Cybernauts started, indicating the irresistible break-in of the technological world. Other visual devices repeated from The Cybernauts are repeated contrasts, such as Beresford using a computer contrasted with Mrs Peel going through paper records; even the toaster sequence at the end is a contrast in terms of low-tech safe technology compared to the cybernauts. The device of at

The Avengers Series 4 Episode 3: The Cybernauts

I must start this post with a confession of an Avengers fan heresy: I'm not frantically keen on the cybernauts story arc. One of the reasons I wanted to do these posts on these stories is that I want to try to get further into the stories to see what it is that people are so keen on! This episode opens with a scene which sets the context of the story very clear: conflict between tradition and the brave new world of new technology. The cybernauts is therefore one of the Avengers episodes which features a fear - or perhaps ambivalence - towards modern technology. The traditional background is set plainly by the traditional furnishings of the room into which the cybernaut smashes his way, even down to the line of guns in a rack on the wall. I feel I recognise the sofa as the one on which the girls line up for their instructions in How to Succeed...at Murder. The way the cybernaut smashes through the door - a recurring theme of this episode - signifies the forcible entry of the fu

Department S: The Bones of Byrom Blain

Like A Small War of Nerves, this is another Department S episode that - to me at least - feels very like a late Avengers episode, in plot, underlying themes, dialogue, & even bizarreness. At first gasp, the name Marling Dale, the army base at which the events of the first scene of this episode happen, sounded extremely familiar. I was sure it was used as the name of a location in The Avengers, & am disappointed to discover that the research station in The Positive-Negative Man was called Risley Dale, but I'm still hoping to post in the future that Marling Dale is used elsewhere when I find it! Jason King starts off the episode in his usual playboy mode, but soon moves into all-knowing Steed mode. When he searches Blain's car, it fees very much like scenes in How to Succeed...At Murder, & The Fear Merchants, where Steed examines a car, only with the chauffeur in this case taking the role of Mrs Peel. If this were an episode of The Avengers it would be one of

Department S: A Small War of Nerves

My take on this episode of Department S is that the plot is actually straight out of The Avengers stable, an opinion which doesn't seem to be shared by anyone else, since the general opinion on the internet seems to be that this is a straightforward 1960s ITC detective/spy story. I haven't made it explicit, but I've adopted a policy of not doing episode synopses on this blog: after all the reader who has managed to get here can also get to episode guides to most of the series I watch, elsewhere on the internet, so I'll content myself with commenting on how this episode strikes me. The basic premise is the very Avengers one of both fascination with modern technological and chemical developments, & fear of their possible repercussions if they get out of control. In this case the powers of order, the Establishment, are contrasted with Gregory Halliday, a lone scientist who has beome concerned at the safety of the chemical weapons his department is working at. He

Sapphire and Steel Assignment 5 Episode 6

So far I've largely managed to avoid the human drama inherent in this Sapphire and Steel assignment, but from the last episode to this the final one, the human drama and time drama that Sapphire and Steel are investigating, begin to intertwine more obviously. To start with a conclusion, mirroring the inverted Agatha Christie motif by inverting a logical argument: the nature of time is enclosed in and works through the events of human life. Just as Sapphire and Steel are excellent complements of each other's abilities, time needs human events to manifest. The episode starts on the day after midsummer day in 1930, the day on which the world will end unless George McDee dies, as he does when time is on the 'right' track. Unfortunately time has wrenched events back to 1930 to alter the existing course of things so that George McDee's work on DNA will bring the world to an end. He previously died in a fire in the library of the house, but the episode starts with Sapphi

Sapphire and Steel Assignment 5 Episode 5

Once again the closing events of the last episode - the insulting toast and death - are recapped briefly. It's not everyone who's examined by a dead doctor who is then able to walk though a locked door. The dead body just vanishes in front of their eyes. Sapphire and Steel reveal to the Harboroughs that they think they will be the next victims, as they are the youngest. Steel wonders how humans destroy each other, and Sapphire, with greater understanding of humans, comments that they have so many ways. Annabelle Harborough is the next apparent victim, but Sapphire and Steel tell Harborough that in reality nobody has been murdered, it is because for consistency's sake everybody not alive in 1930 is having to be eliminated. Naturally Harborough does not accept that their explanation, so Sapphire locks him in the room from them, and they tell him who they really are. They show him the truth by showing him the people who have apparently died, talking to him. They focus on Gre

Sapphire and Steel Assignment 5 Episode 4

The murder at the end of the last episode is recapped in slightly greater detail than previously, including questions as to where the other people in the house are. Of course I intend to stick to my theory that the Agatha Christie-style mystery is a distraction from the real business of Sapphire and Steel, investigating the time disturbance in the house. Miss Emma gives another wonderful portrait of derangement, saying she must get the butler to tidy the dining room - tidy up the dead body, obviously - before dinner. Sapphire comments that motives are irrelevant, they're the setting for the time disturbance. She also comments that 'it' is getting closer, to which Steel replies that 'it' is fooling them by setting them puzzles, that they're innately bound to solve. So the sense of distraction is now clearly on the surface. Sapphire comments that they have a chance of winning though because 'it' has to deal with them both as Sapphire and Steel and Miles

Sapphire and Steel Assignment 5 Episode 3

Once again this episode features a short recap, of Sapphire and Steel in the library, and the discovery of the first dead body. Emma Mulreen's response, 'Come, along, you're spoiling it all, we weren't going to play murders until after dinner,' is suitably deranged for the character she is playing. From the all-important point of view and Sapphire and Steel, the question is whether 'it' or someone in the house killed her, and the assertion that that could be one and the same. Once again I don't feel that Sapphire and Steel are actually the witnesses to the action: it is as if the Christie-esque aspects of this adventure are still distractions: the characters no longer have the inklings they did have that there is something wrong with time, but Sapphire and Steel are seeing what is happening in a deeper way than the others are. Humanly Felicity McDee (McDee's 1980s widow, played by Nan Munro, gives the first hints of being an opposing strong charact

Sapphire and Steel Assignment 5 Episode 2

One of the criticisms often levelled at Sapphire and Steel is that the episodes move at a significantly slower pace than we would expect nowadays. Of course that was partly the fashion of the time: I also think Sapphire and Steel do not work viewed in the back-to-back way that boxsets encourage, but benefit from being seen an episode at a time. For that reason, this episode's recap of the previous episode is refreshingly (and surprisingly) short, merely of Sapphire going on a psychic or out-of-body journey through the door of Lord Mulreen's office, and Steel fruitlessly calling for her to come back. If you come in to the assignment here, that actually recaps the previous episode really well: the door is of great significance and there is something terribly strange going on! Sapphire re-enters her body while Steel is successfully distracting everyone's attention from her motionless body. She tells Steel that 'it' is in there, where something wonderful happened, a s

Sapphire and Steel Assignment 5 Episode 1

 I've picked what is usually considered the odd one out to start writing about Sapphire and Steel, since assignment five was written by Don Houghton and Anthony Read, rather than P. J. Hammond, who wrote the other five assignments. I say usually considered to be different to the others, because while it feels different, I would argue that that is only because it more obviously accesses the obvious cultural reference for the setting for Sapphire and Steel's adventures. There is a recurring theme in the other assignments of Sapphire and Steel finding themselves in a totally enclosed environment: the action of each of the assignments takes place in a setting wholly delineated right at the beginning, whether a petrol station, railway station, etc. What is made explicit in this assignment against the others is its similarity to classic detective stories, specifically Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. In that story ten people who have supposedly committed crimes are i